NU Smart Farms



Animal health and welfare

NU Farms boasts an international reputation for research quality focusing on improving animal health and welfare.

Our research ranges from fundamental studies to understand animal needs in a range of livestock species, through to development of practical on-farm monitoring and assessment methods.

We also look at mechanistic studies of health and disease at the molecular level.

We are supporting the development of livestock systems that enhance animal health and welfare in both a sustainable and socially acceptable manner. 

Some of the research conducted under this theme links closely with the work undertaken under Precision Livestock Farming. 

This work is being conducted on the two NU farms:

These facilities underpin our research exploring:

  • a farming systems approach to enhancing animal health and welfare
  • the development of efficient and financially resilient livestock businesses providing high quality animal products for the food chain
  • evaluation of novel nutritional strategies to support animal health and efficient animal production
  • mitigation of environmental impacts of livestock systems, including reduced inputs from antimicrobials
  • in collaboration with our social science colleagues, public opinion and market values relating to these complex issues.

 We have expertise in:

  • development of practical on-farm monitoring and assessment of livestock health and welfare
  • refining husbandry and housing practices to improve health and welfare
  • application of cutting-edge video and computing techniques for monitoring health and welfare
  • evaluation of feedstuffs and nutritional strategies to promote efficient animal growth and output

We work with a network of stakeholders, including farmers, veterinarians, commercial organisations and pharmaceutical companies, to maximise the impact of our research on-farm.

The C-DIAL team.


Centre for Digital Innovation Applied to Livestock

C-DIAL is Newcastle University’s component of the Centre of Innovation Excellence for Livestock (CIEL)

It is dedicated to the development and use of new technologies for livestock, such as:

  • the latest sensor-based and automated technologies for precision livestock farming
  • equipment for continuous monitoring of the performance, health and welfare of livestock

One example is digital imaging. This enables remote visualisation of animal behaviour, requiring minimal physical interaction with the animals.

Automated equipment

Automation enables tailor-made management and continuous monitoring of performance. We identify the probability of disease, so that we can target animals that actually need treatment, rather than the entire group. 

Our equipment includes:

  • high-definition networked digital cameras, depth perception cameras, and CCTV for behaviour observations
  • Farmex Barn Report to monitor and record environmental conditions, with potential for expansion, such as the addition of gas sensors
  • state-of-the-art gait analysis equipment: fixed and portable
  • advanced computerised Nedap feeding stations and feed delivery system for accurate data collection
  • a Bluetooth weighing system, used in conjunction with Nedap feeders


We apply new farm technologies to improve the livestock production supply chain and have a deep understanding of consumer requirements.

Porcine Research Unit

This building is fully slatted throughout. Its modular design enables flexible internal penning and configuration.

With the addition of rubber matting, substrates are used to accommodate different production practices and livestock species. Its primary function is for pig research, but we can adapt it to all livestock.

Our equipment includes:

  • Geovision digital cameras in each pen and a recording system
  • state-of-the-art computerised Nedap feeding stations and delivery system
  • Farmex Barn Report to monitor and record environmental conditions, with potential for expansion, such as the addition of gas sensors

There are cable trays throughout the building. These allow installation of more research equipment, along with extra power sources in each room.

Commercial pig enterprise

A 140 sow breeder finisher unit enables research on pigs at every stage of production, from conception to finishing.

CCTV cameras are installed for behavioural observations.


PigSAFE stands for Piglet and Sow Alternative Farrowing Environment.

As well as traditional farrow crates, Cockle Park Farm has a freedom farrowing system. We developed this system in conjunction with SRUC. It has proven to equal and even surpass the production performance of traditional farrowing crates. Having both farrowing options on farm allows us to carry out comparison research.


Our poultry research focuses on understanding biological processes related to health and sensory, cognitive and neuro-biological mechanisms.

Our applied research focuses on:

  • animal health and welfare
  • productivity and disease
  • efficient use of resources

Our theme of Precision Livestock Technologies cuts across all our research.

Precision Livestock Technologies

Our research is:

  • improving animal performance and health with digital technologies
  • detecting early signs of nutritional disorders and disease in animals
  • developing early warning systems for targeted selective treatment
  • reducing input from antibiotics
  • minimising environmental impact

We have expertise in using:

  • wearables
  • acoustic analysis
  • thermal imaging
  • depth and thermal cameras
  • computer vision
  • modelling (biological, lifecycle, statistical and computational)

We are skilled in the development of Decision Support Tools.

We are addressing the important problem of anti-microbial resistance. We are researching interventions to detect and reduce disease, and the efficacy of novel plant-based treatments.

Our poultry research is supplemented with expertise in food and nutrition (meat and eggs) and economic and social sciences.

We have two dedicated poultry buildings at Cockle Park Farm. Each has independent environmentally controlled rooms. We can divide one building into customised pens for detailed research on management, nutrition, health and welfare.

The second building has four open rooms that allow for research on a larger number of birds, still within a controlled environment. Ongoing building work will develop new Home Office licenced buildings and post-mortem facilities

We also have access to the advanced digital technologies in the C-DIAL building.

We work with a network of poultry meat and egg producers and technology providers, including:

  • feed manufactures
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • farm equipment providers

We are extending our research into commercial settings.


Our dairy facilities are currently undergoing extensive restructuring to enable us to better investigate the issues affecting modern diary farming.

This facility will include:

  • One 300 cow herd with split herd capabilities through the same parlour.
  • An autumn-calving herd and a spring calving grass-fed herd.
  • Ability to split the milking parlour and separate the milk from each side.
  • Pasturemeter+ offering rapid on-the-go measurement of pasture height and prediction of dry matter content for feed.

 Our dairy research currently focused on:

  • Use of novel technologies for the development of diagnostic tools to enhance cattle health and welfare
  • Feeding strategies for the rearing of dairy calves
  • Development of nutritional strategies to reduce the environmental impact of dairy systems

Research into the use of using novel sensor technologies to develop new and innovative means of automatically detecting lameness.

We are focusing on developing and implementing a cost-effective and efficient automatic means of detecting lame cows on-farm, to empower farmers to reduce the impact that it has on dairy cow welfare and productivity.

This research will:

  • improve cow performance and welfare through the implementation of digital technology
  • detect early signs of lameness to enable more effective treatment
  • develop an early warning system to reduce the impact of lameness on production

 We have expertise in:

  • application of computer vision, deep learning and computational modelling
  • conventional assessment of cattle lameness, health and welfare
  • the use of conventional, thermal and depth cameras
  • development and implementation of automated systems on-farm

 This work is being conducted on the two NU farms:

  • At Nafferton Farm we have access to a 300 cow herd with split herd capabilities enabling the initial development and testing of the system.
  • At Cockle Park Farm we have access to the advanced digital technologies in the Centre for Digital Innovation Applied to Livestock ( C-DIAL) facility to enable precise analysis of cattle gait using start-of-the-art technology.

We work with a network of dairy farms, veterinarians and cattle specialists and pharmaceutical companies, to maximise the impact of this system on-farm.